About BC Ferries

Our History

Our History - a 40 year heritage of service   BCF Dogwood Logo
After a great deal of hard work by engineers, shipbuilders, and construction workers, our new ferry system started out with two vessels and one route. The service linked Victoria, the provincial capital on Vancouver Island, with the City of Vancouver and the rest of mainland British Columbia.

Points of departure were Swartz Bay, on the Victoria side, and Tsawwassen, which is south of Vancouver. (At Tsawwassen, a two-mile long causeway and an artificial island had to be created before the ferry terminal could be built!)

We first operated under the hefty moniker "British Columbia Toll Authority Ferry System," and our mission was fairly straight forward: to provide a safe and dependable marine transportation link. Over the years our name may have become less of a mouthful, but the scope and complexity of our operation expanded exponentially. One thing that did not change in over 40 years of service was the "dogwood" house flag (see above), which was first raised on the M.V. Sidney by Highways Minister Phil Galardi on June 9, 1960.

Tsawwassen as built 1960 The first official day of business was June 15, 1960. The M.V. Tsawwassen and the M.V. Sidney began regular service on one of the windiest, rainiest days of early summer. But the vessels kept to their schedules and carried plenty of passengers. In subsequent months, the weather became something of an ally. Airports were fogged in much of the time, and many people who would normally fly across the water ended up busing it out to our terminals. They soon found that the ferry ride took just a little more time than taking a plane, but cost a great deal less money. Those discoveries, plus the quality of the travel experience, proved to be very good for business. By the end of year one, our fledgling system managed to turn a profit, and growth followed quickly.

In November 1961, the Authority acquired the Black Ball Line and took over service between West Vancouver and mid-Vancouver Island. By late 1962, Canadian Pacific had conceded its Victoria service to the Authority.

Throughout the 1960s, new construction, fleet acquisitions and route expansion continued until we had reached the 24 ship mark. Part of that route expansion was the 1966 launch of BC Ferries' Inside Passage service. At that time, we sailed between Kelsey Bay and Prince Rupert. Today, our Inside Passage trip runs between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, and it continues to rank among the world's great travel experiences.

Stretch and LiftAs our first decade progressed, passenger numbers continued to rise. So a decision was made to add to our inventory of deck space by engineering some enlargements. The first part of BC Ferries' now famous"stretch and lift" program began in 1970 when four of our major vessels were cut down the middle so that an 84-foot midsection could be "spliced" in. Similar operations had been performed on small boats, but this was the first time large ships had undergone such extensive alterations.

The next milestone occurred in 1976, when a new generation of "jumbo ferries" was launched. By the early 80s, five of these new,double-ended "C" Class ships had been added to the fleet.

Five years later, the "lift" part of our "stretch and lift" program was implemented. Four major vessels were hauled back into dry dock and sliced horizontally. The two halves were separated from each other, so that a new upper car deck could be slid into place,thus giving birth to our "V" Class ships and concluding one of the boldest projects in the history of marine engineering.

Stretch and LiftIn each case, the object of the game was to meet constantly increasing demand by coming up with more capacity for vehicles. Over the first three decades, BC Ferries' methods of achieving higher efficiency were,by necessity, creative and effective.

As the fourth decade progressed, that tradition of practical innovation continued with the construction of two massive Spirit Class vessels and the creation of the fleet's first aluminum-hulled fast catamaran vessels- the PacifiCats. Three smaller vessels were built as well, designed to serve the needs of inter-island communities.

Before BC Ferries